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Penn State At Rutgers: Notebook

November 20, 2016 GMT

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — There are three people in football who, it can be said, receive an undue share of both credit and blame.

The coach. The quarterback. The kicker.

There hasn’t been much to complain about with Penn State’s kicker this year. Junior Tyler Davis has connected on 16 of his 18 attempts. But head coach James Franklin knows that kind of percentage isn’t possible without a group effort, and that group was threatened in recent weeks.

For the second consecutive game, third-string quarterback Billy Fessler got the nod as Penn State’s holder. Regular holder Chris Gulla didn’t make the trip to Indiana last week — or back to his home state for Saturday’s tilt — for what a team spokesperson called a violation of team rules.

The holder and the long-snapper, in Penn State’s case senior Tyler Yazujian, can be easily overlooked by fans. But Franklin said their roles are so vital, the rhythm between them and Davis so important, it’s difficult to have to replace one facet of that team in midstream.

It became evident early that Fessler is up to the task, as he picked a low snap off the turf and placed a good hold down on Davis’ 32-yard field goal in the first quarter.

“Making a change there is not ideal,” Franklin said. “But Billy’s so respected in our program. My relationship with Billy is really good. I really, really have grown to love and respect the guy. He’s one of the guys that has a role on our team and really embraced the role. I’m just really, really pleased and happy with him.”

It sure didn’t look as if the Nittany Lions were going to need Davis, Yazujian and Fessler to execute a big kick late in the game against the Scarlet Knights as the night progressed, but Franklin was pleased with the one they had to make in the fourth quarter against Indiana, a 39-yarder that gave the Nittany Lions a 38-31 lead with 1:07 to play.

Franklin said he gathered that group together before sending them on the field with some instructions he didn’t particularly want to give.

“I said, ’Look, if this is a bad snap or bad hold, don’t kick it,” Franklin said. “Just fall on the ball. Because the last thing you want to do in that situation is get a low kick and it gets blocked.

“That’s not the conversation you want to have with a new holder that inspires confidence right before they’re going on the field.”

Here’s the situation

It wasn’t easy for either No. 2 Ohio State or No. 3 Michigan in their respective tuneups before next week’s highly anticipated rivalry clash. But both eked out wins to set up what could be a wild closing Saturday in the Big Ten next week,

The East Division will be decided then, after the Buckeyes edged Michigan State, 17-16, and the Wolverines outlasted Indiana, 20-10. If Michigan beats Ohio State in Columbus, it will represent the East in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. If Ohio State wins, Penn State will need a win over Michigan State to clinch that title game berth for itself.

Ohio State will go only if it wins and Penn State loses.

Here without you

The Penn State offensive line didn’t look like what the depth chart indicated it would.

Senior Derek Dowery started at right guard for Connor McGovern, a week after leaving the Indiana game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury. The true freshman from Larksville, however, made the trip and warmed up with the first-team offensive line during pregame drills.

Ryan Bates made his first start at left tackle after sliding over from left guard, with redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez starting there in his stead.

Penn State did bring its two prized true freshmen linemen — tackle Will Fries and guard Michal Menet — but while Menet suited up, Fries did not.

The answer, my friend

About an hour before kickoff Saturday night, a gorgeous afternoon in Piscataway, New Jersey, turned into Big Ten football weather. Temperatures dipped into the 50s, intermittent rain settled in, and a stiff wind affected play.

Rutgers, with the wind in its face in the second quarter, didn’t bother to attempt a pass. Penn State’s passing game wasn’t completely scrapped, but at times, it looked as if it should have been. In the first half, quarterback Trace McSorley completed just 11 of 23 throws, and two were nearly intercepted.

The best example of the wind’s presence came perhaps on Davis’ 34-yard field goal that put the Nittany Lions up 6-0 in the first quarter. He appeared to hit it flush, but the wind nearly pushed the kick back into the end zone. It barely cleared the crossbar.

In the second quarter, Rutgers punter Michael Cintron, kicking into the wind, averaged a mere 24.7 yards per boot on his three punts.

Walker hurt

Special teams maven Von Walker needed help leaving the field — and got some from Franklin — after apparently injuring his left knee defending a punt in the second quarter.

Walker has made seven tackles this season. He did not return in the second half.

Block party

Penn State has had big momentum swings this season thanks to blocked kicks, and after failing to capitalize on prime opportunities in the first half, it was a blocked punt that changed the pace of the game in the second.

Redshirt freshman receiver Juwan Johnson busted through the middle of the Rutgers line to smother Michael Cintron’s punt attempt after the Scarlet Knights’ first drive of the third quarter. Redshirt freshman cornerback Garrett Taylor recovered the ball at the 10, and Saquon Barkley’s 1-yard touchdown run three plays later put Penn State ahead, 16-0.

Contact the writer:

dcollins@timesshamrock.com

@psubst on Twitter